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Bye Week Friday Festivus: Jameis Winston, and what more he and we must do

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We're running a series of posts airing grievances on this Friday. Do feel free to join us.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

In a different world, Jameis Winston would be my favorite college football player — like I thought he'd be, when I wrote about him in August 2013. He would be a great player, and a great quote, and a compelling person, one with a penchant for mischief, mostly harmless, that has brought him into silly and ultimately insignificant contact with law enforcement.

Seriously, in that world, all of Winston's youthful indiscretions — carrying a BB gun around in Tallahassee, using the BB gun to play-fight and destroying property, stealing soda from a Burger King in ketchup cups, stealing crab legs from Publix, and even yelling a profane meme from a table on Florida State's campus — might be seen as just that.

In our world, a young woman accused Jameis Winston of rape. That changes things.

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The narrative of Jameis Winston's maturation that I've read over and over from his defenders has its roots in the idea that every transgression he committed was committed when he was young and dumb. The BB gun battle, the soda-stealing, even the alleged rape — all of these happened in 2012, before Winston was really in the national spotlight, or even a known quantity at FSU.

That ignores the idea that Winston had dealt with fame before, having been interviewed on ESPNU on National Signing Day in 2012, and grown up as a celebrated multi-sport athlete in Hueytown, Alabama, a 15-minute drive from the city, Bessemer, where Bo Jackson grew up. But conceding the idea that Winston was young and needed to learn was easier because of what Winston said after the 2013 ACC Championship Game.

"I learned I gotta get more mature. I gotta get better at everything I do. I can't let myself, I can't — my teammates can't let theyself — think they're on (gestures with hand at waist) this level. We gotta be (gestures with hand over head) up here. And we gotta keep going higher, and higher, and higher, and get better every single day."

I thought Winston said exactly the right thing that night. (And I thought Heather Cox badgered him for a money quote in a way that was a bit off-putting.)

But listening to that interview several times that night made the idea that Winston talked about needing to get better one that stuck in my mind, and I mentioned them, when, five months later, Winston was cited for stealing crab legs.

I thought of them last week, when Winston shouted a phrase that has its origins in a man trying to make money off the idea that men like to shock with frank, sexual vulgarity about women in public.

I'm gonna think of them every time Winston screws up from now on.

I still think he said exactly the right thing that night. But if he talked the talk then, he hasn't walked the walk since.

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The sequence of events gets lost in the endless debate over Winston's case, so here's a (detailed) refresher of the fairly well-known facts that really aren't in dispute.

On the night of December 6, 2012, Winston's accuser was drinking at Tallahassee bar Potbelly's, departed Potbelly's in a cab, then had sex with Winston. A friend of Winston's accuser contacted FSU Police at 3:29 a.m. December 7, and said Winston's accuser had been raped; Winston's accuser went to a Tallahassee hospital for treatment, and, as the police report phrases submitting to a rape kit, "evidence collection." FSU Police transferred the case to Tallahassee Police because of jurisdiction — the alleged assault occurred in an off-campus apartment — and TPD detectives interviewed Winston's accuser twice on December 7, without her identifying a suspect beyond two conflicting descriptions. She also provided a written statement. Shortly afterward, TPD made efforts to identify a suspect via cab records, but failed.

On January 11, Winston's accuser contacted TPD and scheduled a meeting with a detective, to whom she identifed her accuser as Winston. Later that day, Patricia Carroll, who has served as Winston's accuser's attorney, contacted TPD, and asked that all further communications go through her, given the possible consequences of pressing charges against a person with Winston's stature. A TPD officer made contact with Winston on that same day in hopes of scheduling an interview, but Winston could not meet thanks to a conflict with baseball practice. On January 12, Tim Jansen, who served as Winston's lawyer for the duration of the criminal investigation into the events of December 6, visited a TPD station and advised that he had been retained by Winston. Jansen "was given enough particulars to allow Winston to be able to recall the incident," and told TPD he would be in touch. Jansen was later contacted by TPD, and stated that "he did not think it was in his client's best interest to give a statement at this time.

In February, without any further contact with Winston's accuser, Carroll, Winston, or Jansen, the case was suspended by TPD "due to a lack of cooperation from the victim."

Florida Department of Law Enforcement tests on samples of Winston's accuser's blood and urine taken on December 7 were returned in February and March 2013, respectively, and showed less than the legal driving limit of alcohol and no drugs in her system at the time. A TPD detective contacted Carroll to apprise her of the results, and Carroll told him that she would discuss the results with Winston's accuser and contact him if she wanted to further pursue the case.

An FDLE test on swabs from Winston's accuser and her clothing was returned in August, and found matching partial DNA profiles on both a face swab and her panties, and a separate complete DNA profile on her shorts.

On November 12, after media requests (from TMZ and the Tampa Bay Times, at first), TPD contacted the Office of the State Attorney to apprise them of the case; an assistant state attorney asked for reports of the case as a result of that contact. On November 13, sworn affadavits from Chris Casher and Ronald Darby — Winston's roommates at the time, and fellow FSU football players — were submitted by Jansen to the state attorney's office. (Winston's accuser mentioned interacting with a football player named Chris that she knew at Potbelly's in her interviews with police on December 7.)

Casher was interviewed on November 14 after waiving his right to counsel, and told investigators this about what happened at the apartment that night:

Once back at their apartment (Casher and Winston were roommates), the female and Winston went into Winston's bedroom. After about 10 minutes Casher and Darby peeked in the room and saw the female performing oral sex on Winston. Casher stated the door to Winston's room was broken and did not latch closed. A few minutes later he watched as the female and Winston removed their own clothing and climbed on the bed and began to engage in sexual activity. Casher stated he went into the room to see if the female would engage in sexual activity with him as well (as has happened with other females he and Winston have brought back to their apartment); however, the female saw him and told him to get out. A little while later, Casher stated he tried to video tape Winston and the female; however, when the female saw him she again told him to leave. The female then turned off the light and went with Winston into the bathroom.

Casher stated a little while later he heard Winston and the female leave and get on Winston's scooter.

Casher's statements during the interview were consistent with the statement provided to the police by Attorney Jansen. The only discrepancy was when Casher stated he went into the room to surprise Winston. When asked about this discrepancy, Casher stated he did indeed go into the room to try to have sex with her as well.

DNA was later obtained from Winston, Casher, Darby, and a fourth man, whom Winston's accuser identified as someone she shared a drink with at Potbelly's. Winston's DNA was found to match the partial DNA samples found on his accuser's face swab and underwear; none of the other men's DNA was found to match DNA samples from the accuser.

On December 5, State Attorney Willie Meggs held a press conference to announce that Winston would not be charged in this case, citing a lack of evidence and "memory lapses" from Winston's accuser among the reasons for his decision. (Winston's accuser gave different accounts of her night over time; it should probably noted that this is not rare for rape victims.)

The complete DNA profile found from Winston's accuser's shorts was determined to belong to a Jamal Roberts, described as "a known acquaintance of the victim" in the TPD report. Meggs told reporters during the press conference that his office had been told by Winston's accuser that she had previously had sex with her boyfriend, but did not identify that boyfriend. "She acknowledged having sex with her boyfriend," Meggs said. "But she wouldn't tell me who her boyfriend was. Being a shrewd investigator, we found out, and we got his DNA." Roberts, an Akron football player who went to Zephryhills High, is the only subject other than Winston, Casher, Darby, and the fourth man Winston's accuser identified as someone she met that night to be named in the police report.

Since that decision, Winston's accuser's attorney has hinted at the prospect of civil litigation, and attorneys specializing in Title IX cases working on Winston's accuser's behalf have lodged a Title IX complaint with Florida State — which is also under federal investigation for Title IX compliance. Winston has retained Georgia attorney David Cornwell, noted for his successful work for athletes like Ryan Braun, Ben Roethlisberger, Cedric Benson, and others.

In April, The New York Times published a feature on the investigation into Winston, calling it "flawed" in its headline. The report included the details that another woman had sought counseling after consensual sex with Winston; that Casher was charged with a code of conduct violation for taking video of the sexual encounter on December 6, but only after the Times questioned FSU's denial of any knowledge of a student secretly recording sex; and that another rape investigation by TPD in October 2013 culminated in no charges ... and a demand for an internal affairs investigation into TPD's handling of the case.

In early September, FSU announced a Title IX investigation into Winston.

On Wednesday, the two sides' attorneys traded salvos, with a letter in which Cornwell makes allegations that Carroll asked for $7 million to settle the case out of court and said her client would never be with a "black boy" going public and prompting a response from Winston's accuser's Title IX attorneys alleging that Cornwell initiated settlement talks and told Carroll "your client likes to (expletive) football players" during negotiations. That response also alleges that FSU contacted Winston's accuser in October 2013, in an effort to gauge her interest in participating in disciplinary charges against Winston.

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In our world, we'll probably never know who to truly believe about that night in December 2012.

But I've certainly read and heard enough of what is considered the truth to think that this case was bungled in a way that probably allowed Winston to not face charges based on an inability to collect evidence in a timely manner, while a perfect investigation would resulted in him either facing charges or being fully exonerated.

The key piece of missing evidence — for me and for, I'd think, most thinking people — is the recording of the encounter between Winston and his accuser that Casher made that night.

While it's possible, and maybe probable, that Casher might have deleted that video immediately, Casher also volunteered the information that he created it in the first place, in his interview with TPD. In doing so, I think he unwittingly admitted to commission of a felony: Florida law mandates "two-party consent" in recording conversations that are reasonably assumed to be private, and though both Casher and Darby testified in their affadavits to the door to the bedroom where Winston and his accuser had sex being broken, I can't imagine any good argument that a recording Casher took that night — just before, by his own admission, Winston's accuser told him to leave the room — was of a public conversation.

Florida also has video voyeurism laws prohibiting citizens from "for (their) own amusement, entertainment, sexual arousal, gratification, or profit, or for the purpose of degrading or abusing another person, intentionally us(ing) or install(ing) an imaging device to secretly view, broadcast, or record a person, without that person’s knowledge and consent, who is dressing, undressing, or privately exposing the body, at a place and time when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy." That crime can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the age of the person committing it.

Police didn't speak to Casher — despite being told by Winston's accuser on December 7 that she had been with a freshman football player whose name was Chris at Potbelly's — until November 2013, and didn't learn he had taken the video until then. But if Casher volunteered the information that he committed a felony after waiving his right to counsel just one day after submitting an affadavit through counsel, surely he might have been helpful to the investigation as a candid witness in the days following the alleged rape, right? Was finding a freshman football player named Chris, despite the presence of several players and two freshmen named Chris on FSU's 2012 roster, just too difficult for TPD?

And while the part of the public perception of this case as a travesty stems from frustration with the idea that Winston played football while FSU waited to investigate him, Casher appeared in 13 of FSU's 14 games in 2013. And FSU policy prevents players charged with felonies from playing while their cases are adjudicated. And Casher basically admitted to a felony to a cop.

That video might be the closest thing to impartial evidence that was ever available in this case, and without it, even with otherwise perfect police work I have a hard time imagining that there would have been a case strong enough to convict Winston — everything else boils down to eyewitness testimony, and Winston's accuser is obviously the only person besides Winston to know what happened for the duration of their sexual encounter. Without that video, this is a classic "he said, she said" case — and the inconsistencies in what Winston's accuser said over time made it considerably more difficult for Meggs to bring charges.

But that doesn't mean that she wasn't raped any more than bringing charges would have meant that she was. And it is a tragedy that a police department botched this investigation so badly from its beginning that a full and evidentiary verdict on the events of the night could not be reached by the criminal justice system — for both Winston's accuser and Winston himself.

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The ways in which we have talked about Jameis Winston and his accuser since this case first made headlines have been deplorable.

To some, Winston became a pariah, the standard-bearer for an ossified culture of powerful people getting away with misdeeds — regardless of the facts of the case. To others, Winston became a black man being targeted by a figurative lynch mob for having sex with a white woman. (Winston's accuser is white.)

To still others, Winston's character was put on trial, and things as simple and trivial as his use of African-American Vernacular English have sparked criticism of him that I struggle to read as anything but racial. And to still more, Winston's accuser's character was, with all sorts of invective having been thrown her way. In the seemingly inevitable civil suit to follow, there will be much more of that, to be sure.

Part of this is the incivility with which we conduct ourselves, increasingly, in this day and age. We have forgeone discourse and settled for a course of disses, traded logic and reason and mutual respect for ad hominems and suspicions of trolling.

But part of it is how polarizing topics like rape and race can be. Winston was arguably the most prominent athlete in college football, having superseded Johnny Manziel as a Heisman front-runner, at the time news reported forced the resumption of the investigation into him, and that helped blow it up, but this sort of story divides people into camps and erects barriers between them. It is when we consider the other camps' arguments and inquire about them, without turning anything into an inquisition, that we make progress through the minefield between them.

We haven't done that with this case.

I tried. I tried again. Months and months later, I'm trying a third time.

Please, instead of retrenching, try with me.

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The saddest thing, though, is that Winston appears to have learned no lessons — and that he's being defended more than held accountable.

The narrative of his maturity is a false one. Bundling his errors in judgment as just that, or as youthful indiscretions, with no distinction between an allegation of rape and an allegation of stealing soda via ketchup cup, equates heinous crimes with silly ones. And it threatens to classify Winston as only a class clown — something I have little doubt he is, in actuality, if one whose interest in entertaining seems to exceed his capacity for knowing the room  — instead of a young man who contains multitudes.

Winston's also not unequivocally the bad guy, or an asshole, or a moron. That narrative, too, lacks nuance, and the points brought up in its favor often stray too far from fairness — to racist assumptions, and to things that aren't even factual — for my liking.

And neither narrative does the work to make room for Winston's continued inability to understand that he has become a figurehead, a go-to example, for an insidious branch of culture that devalues and debases and objectifies women. And he's done that, to be sure: Screaming his profane and public command merely callously disregards how some women who are his classmates, peers, and even friends may react to something like that, but my greater worry is how he talks to the kids who will look up to him, no matter what he does. I hadn't read this report from Winston's time at the Manning Passing Academy this summer until just this week:

In the opposite end zone, Florida State’s Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, leads 13 beanpole teenagers through Saigon squats, sings "The Hokey Pokey" while stretching and tells his Seminoles to keep their eyes up, to "look at all the pretty girls in the stands." He is one of 40 college quarterbacks invited to learn from the Mannings and teach aspirants at camp. Winston is also a controversial figure — he was accused of sexual assault by a female FSU student in 2012; although no charges were filed, a federal investigation persists over the school’s handling of the case. Here at the academy, he is a member of the yeomanry. He shags errant throws — chasing one ball up a watchtower — and arranges a garbage can in the back corner to serve as a target for lobs.

"That’s the price we gotta pay because we quarterbacks, baby!" Winston says. "We get all the women, all the love, all the fun. We touch the ball every play. Us and the center. Every damn play. Don’t y’all love it?"

Winston equating women with love and fun, commoditizing all three, and setting them up as the spoils of victory for quarterbacks is objectifying bullshit, every bit as much as Brent Musburger slobbering over Katherine Webb is. But this is just color for that story, and what stuck from Winston's stint as a counselor is his interest in being a Peyton Manning figure.

Manning, of course, has been deified for his skills, and had his personal life mostly hidden from view — I know him no better as a person than I do a TV news anchor, really, and I failed to remember that he, too, has faced allegations of indecency toward women from his college days. (Thanks for reminding me, Cait.) Winston is already better-known, personally — and the rape allegation that will stay with him for his whole life assures that he will probably be less-liked.

But Winston's curse, the incredible media interest in him, is also a blessing: He has a larger share of the role in the creation of his own image than most do, and can control his own message. (He has before.) If Winston wants to be a Manning figure, he can start by doing what he can to prove that his prodigious talents have not inured him to the responsibilities of being a good citizen of the world, as well. If he wants to be liked, he must start by doing things to evince the maturity his defenders say he lacks.

And if we want him to be all these things — and why shouldn't we want a young man to fulfill dreams, and be better than he is? — we need to be honest with our assessments, and hold him accountable for his actions, rather than hand-waving them.

It's on us and him, in other words.

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Last week, SB Nation partnered with the White House to launch It's On Us, a campaign meant to stamp out sexual assault and rape on college campuses.

You should visit that link. You should visit It's On Us. And, whether or not you want a customized Twitter avatar, you should take it to heart.

We created this culture. It's on us to destroy it, too.